Oil: highway 63

Employees work at the new Devon airport near Conklin, Alberta. October 28, 2011. Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail

On the news this morning was how Highway 63 to Fort McMurray has become a no-drive zone for engineering and oil companies.  The Alberta Construction Safety Association has had a no-drive policy for a couple of years, and the major oil sands companies such as Suncor, Statoil, Devon and Syncrude have either their own airstrips at their operations or airports capable of landing a 737.  Suncor flies 25,000 passengers a month; collectively all the airports in the oil sands move 750,000 people a year.  Add that to the 750,000 people that move through Fort McMurray's airport and one starts to have an inkling of just how vast the oil sands region is, not just in area but in personnel.

So, who is left travelling the deadly Highway 63?  Trucks, equipment, ordinary people (it is the only all-weather road into Fort McMurray), families, busses of oil sands workers too lowly to fly, cars, pickups, lots of Newfoundlanders: search the accidents on Highway 63 and CBC St John's always has the report.

The Alberta government regularly announces the twinning of this road, now scheduled to be completed by 2016, but it seems to be waiting for the Oil Sands Development Group to pony up much of the financing.  Meanwhile, clearly there is a wide economic class division growing between those who safely fly, and those who drive.  The fact that there is an official no-drive pollcy amongst corporations and their ability to completely bypass the issue by building their own airports indicates just how autonomous they are.  As the Alberta government is fond of saying that this is the economic driver of Canada, the industry must be kept sweet.  The twinning of Highway 63 for all the people forced to drive on it seems way down the list of priorities. 

It's a class thing.

A roadside memorial stands along highway 63 near Grassland Alberta on May 2, 2012, where three people where killed in an accident along the dangerous highway to Fort McMurray. Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail